Theatre review: You'll die laughing at 'Evil Dead: The Musical'

For the News-DemocratOctober 21, 2013 

Hilarity ensues in "Evil Dead: The Musical," a haunted funhouse unleashed by the creative wizards of Stray Dog Theatre. Five college students plan on spending spring break in a remote cabin in the woods -- what could go wrong? (All together now: Plenty!)

This campy musical spoofs not only the cult classic "Evil Dead" movie trilogy spawned in 1981 by Sam Raimi, but many cheesy elements of the horror movie genre, with great verve. It's directed in broad strokes by Justin Been. The small cast appears to be having a grand time performing clever rock tunes, cavorting with chainsaws and axes, and squirting copious amounts of blood.

The score, featuring such songs as "Look Who's Evil Now" and "Ode to an Accidental Stabbing," has a peppy "Grease-Beach Party" vibe to it, which suits the lively '60s go-go dancer choreography designed by Jamie Lynn Marble of Belleville. The corny dialogue is reminiscent of many teen-targeted entertainments, delivered earnestly.

George Reinblatt wrote the book and lyrics, plus co-wrote the music with Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla and Melissa Morris, in 2003, with Raimi and B-movie star Bruce Campbell's blessings. Since then, it's been off-Broadway and in regional shows around the United States. This is the second time Stray Dog Theatre has produced it, returning by popular demand after a successful run in 2010.

Those who really want the full effects must request sitting in "The Splatter Zone." They will receive white T-shirts that will not stay that color by curtain call. The showers of fake blood on those first couple rows are a fun part of the show as well. (Don't worry, it's washable).

Paul Cereghino is strong as the handsome Ash Williams, with a "truth, justice and American way" demeanor, who leads the wacky bunch through the hysteria. He and Eileen Engel, playing his girlfriend Linda, duet to an earnest "Housewares Employee" as lovebirds who met at work, the S-Mart. She has one of the show's best moments when she's beheaded (you just have to see it).

The young cast is solid. C.E. Fifer is hormonal pal Scott and Angela Bubash is trampy Cheryl, the girl he met a few days ago, and Brittany Kohl is hilarious as know-it-all motormouth Annie Knowby, daughter of the professor who found the Necronomicon book that begat the very bad things. Kohl shines on "All the Men in My Life Are Killed By Candarian Demons."

Standouts include Collinsville residemt Anna Skidis, who also assistant directed, very funny as Cheryl, Ash's sister who is quickly turned into a zombie, then pops out of the cellar with a cackling laugh the rest of the show. The always entertaining Zachary Stefaniak is a hoot as a local yokel, singing his own praises in "Good Old Reliable Jake." He really has fun with gushing blood. Michael A. Wells of Belleville has the small but pivotal role as Ed, Annie's helpful fiance, displaying his non-verbal dexterity. His "Bit-Part Demon" is a highlight, and he doubles as the voice of the talking moose above the mantel.

Chris Petersen's music direction keeps up the brisk pace, and the vocals are clear and crisp in musical numbers. Special shout-outs to lighting director Tyler Duenow who set the spooky mood perfectly, makeup designer Sarah Castelli for her speedy transformation of characters into the scabby undead, and director Been, as stage manager, and his assistant Dan Jones, for their extensive clean-up detail.

The silly slapstick will have you howling with laughter. This show just might be the heir apparent to "The Rocky Horror Show," for it's a rollicking romp guaranteed to get you in the mood for the Halloween holiday season!

At a glance

What: "Evid Dead: The Musical"

Who: Stray Dog Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Nov. 1; 8 p.m. Oct. 30.

Where: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis

Tickets: $20; students and 65-plus $18; $35 splatter zone.

Website: www.straydogtheatre.org

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